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Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

In a piece supporting communion without baptism at the Episcopal Cafe, after providing a litany of people who might wander into our churches, (including “the 8-year-old who comes to church with her best friend after a sleepover, the grandchildren who are only here twice a year when they are visiting their grandparents, the 11-year-old who often comes with his grandmother and has been leaving love notes to Jesus on the altar since he was first old enough to write, but whose parents won’t allow him to be baptized until he turns 18, the teen who is clearly uncomfortable being here, but wants to be with her boyfriend, the anti-church spouse, the Muslim grandmother from another country who is here for her grandson’s baptism, the Jewish son-in-law who comes with the family on Christmas, the ‘spiritual but not religious’ 20-something who has moved back in with his parents after college, and only comes to church on Easter to keep the family peace, the homeless person who wanders in off the street, those who come to share with and honor their loved ones at weddings and funerals”) the author says,

I think God has cherished and adored all these persons since before they were born. Has been in relationship with them, all along. And is longing to be closer to them, speaking to them through our worship, even if they only once step through our doors.

The point the author is making is that because she believes God loves these people, we should offer them the Eucharist.  This is a hot topic in the Episcopal Church lately, and will be coming up for a vote at this summer’s General Convention

Haligweorc responds:

I absolutely believe this [that God loves them]; she’s spot on.

However—what does this have to do with the Eucharist? The author never makes the connection but seems to assume that there is a clear and easy one to be made.

The Eucharist is the food of the covenant community who confess Jesus as Lord. We enter the covenant community by making our own covenant with Christ in the midst of the community: it’s Baptism. The Eucharist assists us in keeping our Baptismal Covenant and helps us to continue to grow into a life of discipleship through it’s nourishment.

This basic Eucharistic theology is found nowhere here. Instead, there seems to be a simple assumption that the Eucharist means that God loves you and wants to be in a relationship with you and that if anyone can’t have the Eucharist at any time it’s the church’s way of saying that God doesn’t love them. That’s not what is going on at all.

Granted—some people may perceive it like that, but this perception does not constitute the church’s theology. We do need to do a better job about teaching the basics of Eucharistic theology—so that both our visitors and our members can grasp what it is that the church both intends and does.

This raises the interesting point of how doctrine, dogma, and theology might not cause problems, but actually solve them!  Many of the struggles we face right now are not caused by too much doctrine, but not enough.  I have heard Dr. Stanley Hauerwas frame the problem roughly this way: If someone studying to be a doctor told their professors that they weren’t  interested in anatomy and physiology, but would rather spend their time studying psychology and human development the professors would tell them, “Tough.  To be a good doctor you need to know anatomy and physiology.”  However, we often have people studying to be priests who say things like, “I don’t think doctrine, theology, and Biblical studies are very important.  I’d rather study spiritual direction and centering prayer.”  Those types of aspirants are very likely hear, “That is fine.  Follow your heart and do what you think God is calling you to do.”  Why is this?  It is because, Hauerwas says, we think doctors can harm people if they aren’t properly trained, but we don’t think a priest can really do much for a person for good or for ill, otherwise we would demand they be properly trained.

The root of many of the difficulties the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are facing go right to this issue: theological literacy among clergy.  If indeed we depend on priests, and most importantly bishops, to fulfill their ordination vows to be pastors and teachers and to ” to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,”  and to (in the words of St. Paul in Ephesians) “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” what will become of a church whose priests and bishops don’t know, don’t agree with, or don’t teach the Catholic, Biblical, and Apostolic Faith?

John Milbank, commenting on many of the problems in the Church of England says:

Perhaps most decisive is the collapse of theological literacy among the clergy – again, this is partly a legacy of the 1960s and 70s (made all the worst by the illusion that this was a time of enlightening by sophisticated German Protestant influence), but it has now been compounded by the ever-easier admission of people to the priesthood with but minimal theological education, and often one in which doctrine is regarded almost as an optional extra.

Milbank’s offers, in turn, a solution:

The Anglican Church needs to increase the effectiveness of its teaching office, since this is an essential aspect of priesthood and episcopacy. While the operation of the [Roman] Catholic magisterium is still (whether fairly or unfairly) regarded as too draconian by many Anglicans, there is little doubt that Anglicanism has gone way too far in the other direction, and offers its members pitifully little guidance and only partial and sporadic leads on doctrine and practice.

Dr. Derek Olsen concludes his piece at Haligworc by saying, “I think it’s time for a back-to-basics primer on what the prayer book teaches on the Eucharist to provide a real starting point for any discussions going forward.”  I couldn’t agree more… and perhaps that should start in our seminaries.

For one of the more robust but short accounts of Baptism and Eucharist floating around recently, you can’t do much better than The Curate’s Desk’s recent article Responding…to Communion Regardless of Baptism

The Eucharist has been the central act of worship for large parts of Christianity since Christ said “Take, eat, this is my Body.” Somehow, over 2000 years, this has not been a source of tension.  This was the pattern in lean times of persecution and in the bloated years of full-blown Christendom and in every era in between.   Wax or wane Christianity has held, at its core, Baptism as entry into the life of Christ…

Do you believe the Holy Spirit descends upon a person and transforms their very being in Baptism so that they are united with Christ?  Do you believe that Christ is truly present in the Body and Blood we receive at the Altar?  Are the Sacraments God’s action or ours?  I have heard far too many talking of Baptism as an entry rite rather than as transformation just as I have heard too many speak of Communion as a “meal” alone rather than the very Presence of Christ among us…

The Sacraments exist for the sanctification of humanity because we are not just fine on our own.  We need the life-giving encounter with Christ to be fully alive as creatures of God.

This is the crux of the dilemma, in many ways.  Why baptize?  If people are fine as they are and not to be challenged to the life of transformed living in Christ, then the Sacraments are, indeed, irrelevant and can be toyed with to suit the perceived needs of the day.  The Catechism reads, “From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices” and we are rescued from that misused freedom (which includes walking apart from Christ) in Baptism.

We must, indeed, understand our relationship to God.  It is a relationship that is defined in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If we do not see Christ as decisive in the salvation of the human family then our Sacraments do not really matter.  They are an indifferent thing if redemption is an indifferent matter…

A Church that wants to transform society cannot be shy about asking its members to be transformed.  A Church that wants to impart the strength to challenge the systems of oppression and violence better offer more than enlightened self-interest to feed its people.  Sacraments that don’t matter enough to wait, to ponder, to make a loving commitment to receive are not Sacraments that can fuel the Body…

Amen.  Now let’s teach this to our aspiring clergy, and hold them accountable to their ordination vows.  If you don’t like anatomy, you should not be a doctor.  If you do not find theology & Holy Scripture to be nourishing and life-giving, you should not be ordained.

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I am currently reading  A History of the Church in England by JRH Moorman, and had I known it would be this enriching and illuminating I would have read it much sooner.  If I had my druthers, it would be mandatory reading for all confirmands and inquirers.  One of the most helpful sections comes in the chapter dealing with the Elizabethan settlement during the English reformation.  Specifically, it deals with the unique way that the English reformers approached the reform of the church in their country.  From page 212:

In the eyes of those who were shaping the destiny of the Church in England there was no sense of separation from the rest of the catholic church.  The Church in England was, as the title-page to the first Prayer Book had implied, a part of the catholic church, even though it had repudiated papal jurisdiction.  It was catholic, but it was also reformed.  Its roots ran back to the primitive church, but certain customs and ideas which had clung to it during the Middle Ages had now been cut away.  The fundamental doctrines and constitution of the Church remained the same, but a number of genuine reforms had been carried out, such as the vernacular liturgy, the administration of the Sacrament in both kinds and permission for the clergy to marry.

The key point for me here is that they were in no way trying to be anything other than catholic Christians, and the inheritors of the Holy Traditions of the church as they had been received in England.  They certainly believed there had been some medieval missteps that needed to be put right, but on the whole English “Protestantism” was less about being good protestants and more about being good catholics.  This is markedly different than the way the reformation proceeded on the continent (of Europe).

After the brief, but violent interlude of the Puritan commonwealth, the Caroline divines carried forward the torch of reforming the catholic church in England.  Their work was, again, not about creating a new church, but about being faithful as the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  From page 234:

The point of view… may be summed up in the dying words of Thomas Ken…, ‘I die,’ he said, ‘in the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolick Faith, professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West.  More particularly I dye in the Communion of the Church of England as it stands distinguished from all Papall and Puritan Innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross’…

Theirs was an atempt to get back to the early Church before the accretions of the middle Ages which the reformers had been so anxious to get rid of.  The Anglicans stood between two great religious systems.  On the one side was Rome, active and aggressive under the impetus of the Counter-Reformation, trying to rebuild a Christendom shattered by the cataclysms of the sixteenth century.  But to the Anglicans there could be no return to Rome since the faith which she taught was, in their eyes, impure — corrupted by the ‘innovations’ which were no part of the Holy Catholic and Apostolick Faith’ as taugh by the Primitive Chuch. As Laud said, they could not return to Rome ‘until she is other than she is.’  On the other side were the Calvinists and Lutherans, who had separated from catholic tradition and had magnified certain doctrines out of all proportion.  The Anglicans were equally clear that they could not fall into line with them since they had abandoned things which the Early Church thought essential.  The Caroline Divines, therefore aimed at a Via Media between two extremes; but the Via Media which they sought was not a compromise, a ‘lowest common denominator’; it was a real attempt to recover the simplicity and purity of primitive Christianity. (Bolding mine)

And here we have that famous phrase: Via Media.  It has been bandied about much in contemporary Anglican debates as a way of encouraging compromise, tolerance, and broad mindedness.  However, what we find in the minds and work of the Anglican reformers is no watered-down compromise.  It is a full-throated declaration and a full bodied working out of the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic faith as understood and passed down by the undivided church.  Now that is what I call, “change we can believe in.”  That is an Anglicanism we can believe in

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From Haligweorc:

One of the real failures in the theological life of the Episcopal Church is the perspective that we can talk about Christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, the theology of death, and the theology of the sacraments and that we are therefore discussing five different things. We are not. We are discussing one thing: Christology, and are looking at four of its implications.

We celebrate the saints because at the heart of our theology is the principle of incarnation. Incarnation is the belief that the divine and the spiritual do not eschew physical matter and form, but that God has chosen to reveal himself and his realities in flesh and matter, preeminently in Jesus Christ who, as both fully God and fully human, constitutes the ultimate revelation of God’s self-identity. Furthermore, God’s self-revelation through the mode of incarnation did not cease with the end of the physical, visible, sojourn of Christ among humanity. In Baptism we are bound into Christ, as true mystical members of his Body. We are nurtured deeper into the reality of that life through the Eucharist. We are invited in the sacraments to participate deeply and fully within the divine life of God. Not all who are invited choose to participate. Not all who are invite participate as deeply and earnestly as they could (my hand’s up here…). There are those who are invited who even in (and necessary through) their humanity and limitation nevertheless share with those around them the truth of the reality of the life of God. These are the saints. They inhabit the life of God; they reflect the life of God to those around them.

It’s my blog so I’ll give myself permission to be a bit hyperbolic: We do not celebrate the saints because of their virtuesRather, we celebrate the saints because ofChrist’s virtues. Yes, that’s hyperbole but it’s necessary to focus on the main thing: saints are incarnational icons. The self-revelation of God happens in many ways–through their participation in the incarnation, the saints are one of them. Looking at the saints helps us to learn about who Christ is. In particular, I see the saints teaching us two very important lessons about who Christ is and they do it because they’re able to clarify generalities by means of particularities.

Read it All

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Using affirmative terms, I would suggest that “the point of Christianity” is to make people fit to live in heaven, to be in the unfiltered presence of God without being vaporized by the sheer weight of divine glory. This is a process called sanctification (in the west; our eastern friends are apt to say theosis–deification). The process is fueled by grace, and grace, while generally ubiquitous, is found surely and certainly in the sacraments.

For my money, this is a lot more exciting than just trying to make the world a better place.”

—  Daniel Martins, Bishop of Springfield

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The Collect for Labor Day (BCP1979):

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another
that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide
us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but
for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for
our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of
other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out
of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

One gift that I believe the Anglican tradition offers to the Western World (and maybe the East as well), is a thoughtful, and meaningful theology of work.  For most of my upbringing (in the American evengelical protestant tradition), daily work was seen, at best, as a sort of necessary evil that one had to do until an opportunity arose to do the “real important work.”  “Real important work” was going to church on Sunday, reading the Bible, being a missionary, or preaching.  Any other sort of activity or labor was only important in so far as it supported or enabled any of the “real important works.”

Now I realize this is probably an over generalization, but it is one that strikes very near the truth.  It effected me, and I know that it effected others in the tradition.  My grandfather, for instance, worked hard & honestly for 30 years in a refinery to support his family, community, and church.  He did his work well, faithfully, and with some measure of joy.  Yet, if you asked him, he would tell you his work was not “important” or “meaningful.”  In his mind, “preachers” and “missionaries” have the only important work, and I suspect he is not alone in this sort of thinking.

Anglicanism, refreshingly, offers an alternative to this sort of thinking about work and labor as reflected in the Collect for Labor Day above.  Anglicans (or at least properly catechized Anglicans) believe that work, far from being a necessary evil, is one of the primary activities by which we are linked with one another and with the rest of creation.  Because of that, the work that is done, the way it is done, and to what end it is done, is actually of tremendous importance.  It is about far more than just “punching the card.”  It is, in fact, a type or shadow of “communion.”

Together with this comes in the wonderful Anglican concept of “the common good.”  It teaches that life, and work, and worship always exist and are meant for more than the self alone.  It points or life of prayer and work outside of ourselves and toward the wider world.  I first encountered this idea of the common good in NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope, but soon came to discover that it predated the honorable bishop’s work by several hundred years.

The twin ideas of interconnection and common good come together to give great meaning to our daily work and labor, and I believe comes much closer to the New Testament idea of true “ministry” expressed by Paul in Ephesians 4:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry

In this context, the ministry isn’t done by the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, it is done by what we would call “ordinary people”… ordinary people like my grandfather and scores of other laborers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, and men and women working 9-5 jobs for the glory of God and for the common good.  Apostles and the rest, at least in these verses, are simply in supporting roles… they are the servants of the servants of God.

I hope such a thinking about work, labor, and ministry will inspire you as it does me to do my work with care, diligence, and hope.  There is much value in the way we spend our time and labor, for if we don’t find meaning, ministry, and Christ in the primary work of our lives, where else will we find it?  Christ is in our midst always, not only in “church” or the “mission field.”

Almighty God, guide us in the work we do.

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A great article entitled  Given as Icon from Catholicity and Covenant:

Despite the grave difficulties faced in recent years by Anglican-Orthodox dialogue, the 2006 Cyprus Agreed Statement – The Church of the Triune God – notably enriches the Anglican understanding of the ministerial priesthood and answers contemporary Anglican confusions.

In the various debates afflicting Anglicanism in recent decades – ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, 1.10 and New Hampshire, Sydney/Fresh Expressions and lay presidency – a common theme has been an inability to articulate what the ministerial priesthood actually is.  Instead, a “baptism ecclesiology” has inspired both the progressive and the puritan, Philadelphia, New Hampshire and Sydney.  In such an ecclesiology, the ministerial priesthood does no more than represent the eucharistic community.  It is the projection of the community.

The Church of the Triune God – which, as ACC14 noted received a “favourable response” at Lambeth 2008 – reminds us that the presbyter is more than the representative of the community.  Quoting both the Moscow (1976) and Dublin (1984) Agreed Statements, it says:

In the Eucharist the eternal priesthood of Christ is constantly manifested in time. The celebrant, in his liturgical action, has a twofold ministry: as an icon of Christ, acting in the name of Christ, towards the community and also as a representative of the community expressing the priesthood of the faithful (VI, 19).

Commenting on the presbyter’s role as an icon of Christ, Cyprus stresses this particular ministry of the presbyter: 

The priestly president of the eucharistic assembly exercises an iconic ministry … In the context of the Eucharist, the bishop or presbyter stands for Christ in a particular way. In taking bread and wine, giving thanks, breaking, and giving, the priest is configured to Christ at the Last Supper (VI, 19).

This calling to be an icon of Christ, given particular expression in the celebration of the eucharist, ensures that “Christ’s own priesthood … remains alive and effectual within the ecclesial body” (VI, 21).

That the presbyter is given to the Church to be an icon of Christ’s priesthood means that the ministerial priesthood is not our projection.  The presbyter as icon recalls the community to the truth and reality of revelation and grace. Standing within and as part of the community of the baptised, the presbyter’s ministry and vocation as icon proclaims to the community that we are dependent on the prior action of the Triune God in the Incarnate Word.

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From the newly discovered Conciliar Anglican:

Classical Anglicanism is minimalistic about all of this. The 39 Articles are fairly clear on several points: that salvation comes through Christ alone, that justification is by faith alone, that works above and beyond our duty to God do not add to our salvation. These points are further elucidated by the Catechism, which moves from law to grace, assuring the cathecumen that he or she cannot fulfill God’s call to live a holy life by will power. In all of this, Anglicanism is consistently Protestant.

And yet, there is little official mention of sanctification. The articles make positive statements about the sacraments as means of grace, that they are “not only badges and tokens” but “effectual signs of grace” through which God “works invisibly within us” (Article XXV). This certainly implies an ongoing need for sanctification, but it doesn’t spell out why or how such a thing should take place, nor does it relate the topic back to justification. The liturgies of the Prayer Book reveal a similar emphasis, highlighting justification, acknowledging sanctification, but without making explicit how exactly we are to think about the whole thing.

The result of this lack of specification has been that Anglicans have often looked elsewhere for their soteriology. John Henry Newman attempted to harmonize justification by faith with the Council of Trent, which remains the approach of some Anglo-Catholics today, though Newman himself eventually found such an approach lacking. John Wesley, of course, took a unique approach which remains alive in Methodism. A large number of modern Anglicans, particularly in Africa, subscribe to a Pentecostal view. The Lutheran view is espoused by contemporary Anglican Evangelicals like Paul Zahl and Alister McGrath. FitzSimons Allison tends more towards the Reformed approach. Even the Eastern Orthodox view of salvation as theosis has had its Anglican proponents through the ages, most notably Charles Chapman Grafton and Michael Ramsey.

Since Anglicanism has never pronounced definitively on this topic, all of these approaches are acceptable. This doesn’t mean that they’re all correct, but merely that one cannot be deemed outside the bounds of the tradition so long as one holds a plausible rendering of justification by faith and an unswerving conviction in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as savior. The rest remains unsettled, not because Anglicanism is wishy-washy on this topic, but rather because one of the hallmarks of the Anglican approach to theology is a strong reluctance to say anything definitively that wasn’t said definitively by the early Church. The Anglican Reformers were willing to commit to justification by faith because it seemed to them to be plain in the reading of scripture and not in contradiction with the Fathers. But they were not agreed upon anything more, and to insist upon something that is so clearly unsettled is to invite schism and heresy.

Salvation, the Sacraments, and the Church

I would agree with the Anglican Reformers that an absolute dogma on the topic of sanctification is unwarranted when the Church exists, as she does today, in a state of disunity and disarray. We are all in schism. Novel pronouncements only serve to deepen the divide and further damage the Body of Christ. Nevertheless, there are implications to be drawn from the mind of the undivided Church on this matter. The focus of the Fathers upon the divinity and humanity of Christ is not just about our understanding of who Jesus is but also about our understanding of who we are in relation to Him. The creeds are not explicit about the nature of the atonement, and yet they do insist on belief in “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” The nature and purpose of the Church was a very important topic for the Fathers, just as it is in scripture. Any orthodox notion of salvation, therefore, must make reference back to the Church as the chief means through which Christ’s work on the cross is realized. We are not saved merely as individuals. We are saved through our participation in Christ’s sacrifice by being drawn up into His Body, the Church, as Paul makes clear in any number of places. Indeed, Romans 6, which is a primary text for Luther and for Calvin, speaks explicitly of the death of the old body so that we might be brought into the new life of Christ. That new life is made manifest in the new Body. “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:5).

Furthermore, while there is great latitude in how Anglicans may come to understand the sacraments, our formularies make clear that the sacraments are a means of grace and not merely symbols. As such, while we cannot necessarily say much definitively about how salvation works, we can say boldly, with the full backing of scripture and the Fathers, that the sacraments are a chief means by which saving grace is imparted to us. There is a reticence in pan-Anglican conversation to make too much out of the sacraments, for fear that such talk might unsettle those of a low church persuasion. But a firm conviction about the place of the sacraments in salvation does not necessitate a rejection of justification by faith alone, nor does it behold a person to believe in transubstantiation or any other way of understanding how Christ’s presence in the sacraments is actualized. Nevertheless, it does necessitate putting aside the strange and novel idea that Anglicans have ever believed that the sacraments were simply memorialist ordinances that have no value in and of themselves. Classical Anglicanism understood just what the early Church understood, that Baptism and the Eucharist are means by which God gives Himself to us, that we cannot be united to the Body of Christ unless we are incorporated into the Body of Christ, and we cannot be incorporated into the Body of Christ unless we are willing to receive the Body of Christ when it is tangibly, wholly, beautifully offered to us.

 

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